New England Freejack fans were yelling all game as their team won the MLR championship July 8 in Bridgeview. (Photos by Jeff Vorva)

New England Freejack fans were yelling all game as their team won the MLR championship July 8 in Bridgeview. (Photos by Jeff Vorva)

MLR happy with SeatGeek Stadium, but championship return uncertain

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SHAQ

Shaquille O’Neal, a.k.a. DJ Diesel, helps get the party started at SeatGeek Stadium July 8 for the Major League Rugby Championship.

By Jeff Vorva

They came from the East Coast.

They came from the West Coast.

Heck, one guy came in from Canada and was wearing a wrestling mask.

An announced crowd of 10,103 descended on SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview on July 8 to witness the fifth Major League Rugby Championship.

And that included Toronto’s Wayne Stobie, the wrestling-mask wearing rugby fan, who flew into Chicago in the morning and planned on flying out at night. He also attended last year’s title game at Red Bull Arena in New York.

“The atmosphere was a lot better than last year, and this is bigger than I thought it was going to be,” he said.

ANTHEM

Jim Cornelison gives a rousing rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” before the MLR title game at SeatGeek Stadium.

It turned out bigger than a lot of people thought it would be.

It was the first year the MLR used a neutral site for the championship, and it did not disappoint as the weather stayed good and the game was a thriller with New England beating San Diego, 25-24 in the final minutes.

It was the largest crowd for an MLR championship game and the second-largest crowd in MLR history. The Utah-San Diego regular season game on Feb. 18 at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego drew 11,423.

Will the championship come back to Bridgeview?

That is yet to be determined.

“We’re looking to assess every year the best place to have it,” said MLR Commissioner/CEO Nic Benson. “Is it possible? Yes, it’s possible. But we’re going to take a little bit of a breather. It’s the first time we’ve done a neutral-site menu like this, and we will re-assess over the next couple of weeks what we want to do for next year.”

Benson said much of the work on the event was done by the first-year Chicago Hounds. There was a party area outside the stadium and entertainments inside the stadium that included DJ Diesel (Shaquille O’Neal) plus a postgame concert from the Dropkick Murphys.

“The Hounds put on a great show, here,” Benson said. “The show was amazing, the community was amazing. They gathered around to help the Chicago Hounds. We were just kind of assisting.

“It was a tremendous event.”

San Diego’s Marcel Brache was upset with the heartbreaking loss but lauded the atmosphere at SeatGeek Stadium.

“It was incredible,” he said. “I have to commend the MLR as an organization to get this atmosphere with the entertainment and the feeling out there.

“It felt incredible to be out there and be a part of it. Obviously, we are very fortunate as sportsmen to call this a job.”

6 STARTLED scaled

Mitch Jacobson of New England is startled by the smoke as his team came out of the tunnel before the MLR Championship game against San Deigo in Bridgeview. 

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